Death sentences for Egyptian church bombings


An Egyptian military court sentenced 17 people to death for involvement in bombing attacks on three churches and a police checkpoint in 2016 and 2017 that killed more than 80 people, state news agency MENA reported.

Nineteen others were handed life prison terms for the attacks, which hit churches in Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta city Tanta, MENA said.

The sentences are subject to appeal. Reuters was not immediately able to determine whether the accused entered pleas or reach their lawyers.

Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, which makes up an estimated 10% of the population, is a frequent target of attacks and persecution since the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the Alexandria and Tanta bombings, both suicide attacks on Palm Sunday in April 2017 and left 45 people dead.

The group also claimed responsibility for a December 2016 attack on a chapel adjoining St Mark’s, Cairo’s main cathedral that left 28 dead. The cathedral is the seat of Coptic Pope Tawadros II and its security is normally tight.

MENA said some defendants were also suspected of an attack on a checkpoint in Egypt’s Western Desert that killed at least eight policemen last year.

Thirty-six people are on trial in the case, including 15 being tried in absentia. The remaining 10 accused were jailed for between 10 and 15 years, MENA said.

Following the Palm Sunday attacks in Alexandria and Tanta, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month nationwide state of emergency. It has been extended and remains in force.

Since February, Egypt’s military has been conducting a major operation against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, where Christians are also targeted.

Authorities say a crackdown on dissent and freedoms is directed at terrorists and saboteurs trying to undermine the state. Death sentences have been handed down to hundreds of Sisi political opponents, including 75 sentenced to death last month over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters.

Amnesty International said in a statement the cases should be retried in a civilian court in proceedings complying with international human rights law and fair trial standards.